Apr 12

Ford For Toronto: now at metronews.ca

Moved to Metro

As of today, all new content for Ford For Toronto can be found at the brand new metronews.ca.

What does this mean for you, the reader? Not a whole lot. You’ll still get the same brand of snarky, chart-filled posts you’ve come to expect. My City Hall nerdery and would-be punditry will continue. If anything, you’ll get a whole lot more of me.

The team at Metro and I have been working on this for a while now and I’m excited about what we’ve set up. In addition to the same content you’re used to, you’ll see my writing and graphics in the print edition of Metro on a semi-regular basis.

All archive content will remain here, so there won’t be any broken links or search engine results. FordForToronto.ca and FordForToronto.com will redirect to the new site once the DNS updates. You can still follow me on Twitter at @GraphicMatt or receive site updates at @FordForToronto.

If you’ve liked what I’ve done over the past year, it’s good news – Ford For Toronto will keep rolling as it always has. If you’ve hated what I’ve done – well, then, at least now you’ve got a comments section.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Feb 12

Labour Crisis Averted

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

In a press conference at 8:30 this morning, CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson announced that negotiators has reached a tentative deal with the City of Toronto. CUPE 416, which represents approximately 6,000 outside workers, had been in the midst of what everyone described as an incredibly contentious bargaining process—a view Ferguson reinforced today when he called the course of discussions with the City “one of the toughest labour negotiations in Canadian history.” No details of the deal were released this morning but Ferguson called the agreement thus far a “working framework” and added that the union had made “numerous concessions” in order to get to an agreement.

via Outside Workers Reach Tentative Deal with the City | Torontoist.

Geez. I sure predicted wrong on this one. I was almost 100% sure that the city’s move to unilaterally impose terms would push Toronto toward a work stoppage. I was very surprised — the good kind of surprised — to hear that a deal had been reached yesterday morning.

The union came into these negotiations in a tough position. The 2009 strike was devastating for them in a bunch of ways. It damaged their relationship with a labour-friendly mayor, sparked questions-of-confidence amongst their membership, turned most of the public against them and contributed to the landslide electoral victory of a mayor who publicly refers to workers as “garbage.” As far as dumb decisions go, walking off the job for 40 days over a sick bank issue has to be a Hall of Fame contender.

And so the stage has always been set for this to be a negotiation where the union would have to make concessions. As Adam Vaughan told the Toronto Star’s Linda Diebel, “CUPE is remarkably, profoundly aware of the (public relations) problem they face over the 2009 strike.” And to CUPE President Mark Ferguson’s credit, the union were conciliatory from the outset, offering both a pay freeze and some latitude on the “jobs for life” thing. This willingness to make concessions contrasted with a negotiating strategy from the city that was designed to make the union look like uncompromising bullies — and it was that contrast that make a negotiated settlement look so unlikely heading into this weekend.

Any real analysis of who “won” this particular labour battle is premature until we know more about the deal that was reached, but, in the public eye, this outcome will undoubtedly stand as a victory for the mayor. Rob Ford does deserve credit for being open to a compromise solution, and sparing the city yet another work stoppage. I underestimated him on this one.

Also, selfishly: can I say how glad I am that I won’t have to write about labour issues for the next few months? Feel like I dodged a bullet.

Jan 12

Mike Del Grande wastes a bunch of taxpayer money just for spite

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Budget Chief Mike Del Grande says he was just giving left-leaning councillors a taste of “their own game playing” when he called for the removal of $16.4 million from the plan to revitalize Regent Park.

In a move opposition councillors likened to firing a “torpedo” into Regent Park, Del Grande asked Toronto’s influential executive committee last week to divert funding for affordable rental units in the area to a shovel-ready project at Finch Ave. W. and Weston Rd.

Del Grande’s move enraged Councillor Pam McConnell, who represents Regent Park, and in the end, the committee voted to decide on the issue at city council next month.

But Del Grande conceded he will support the original staff recommendation to leave the money in Regent Park.

via Del Grande pokes the left | Toronto Sun.

The Star’s Daniel Dale confirms that Del Grande’s motion — one he intends to ultimately vote against — will cost us, the vaunted taxpayers, a fair amount of money. Because the budget chief supported a deferral motion by Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Del Grande’s motion will go to the City Manager, who will draft a report to council. Who will then, I guess, summarily reject it.

The City Manager, Joe Pennachetti, whose name will be on this report, draws a salary of more than $300,000 per year. His time and attention does not come cheap.

The worst part of all this is that even if we accept Del Grande’s claim that left-leaning councillors were “playing games”, that doesn’t excuse his behaviour. This is straight-up kindergarten “two wrongs don’t make a right” stuff. It’s not complicated: Del Grande is a guy who spent the last eight months telling us, as part of the core service review and budget process, that we had to get our fiscal house in order. That we had to make hard choices to save money. He shook his damn piggy bank again and again and again.

And now he’s got city staff working on a report for literally no reason beyond spite.

Ignore the bleeding heart stuff. (Though a politician musing about halting construction on a poor person’s home just for the hell of it seems a mighty good reason for a heart to bleed.) Let’s look purely at the business side: the Regent Park revitalization is, at the core, a large-scale financial transaction with dozens of public-and-private-sector partnerships moving things forward. There are hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in these projects. It’s a mini-economy supporting hundreds of jobs in Toronto. This is not something responsible and mature people play games with.

Oct 11

Ford stays out of provincial race as Ford Nation goes up in smoke

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Days before the May federal election, Ford came out endorsing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives.

But Ford won’t be throwing his support behind Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath or Liberal Dalton McGuinty

“There are no plans to,” Adrienne Batra, the mayor’s press secretary, told the Sun.

Batra did not provide Ford’s reason for staying out of this race.

via Ford staying out of provincial election | News | Ontario Votes | More | Toronto Sun.

Here’s the reason: he’s unpopular.

That Ford didn’t endorse Tim Hudak — the only guy he would ever endorse — is the clearest sign yet that the mayor is aware of his declining popularity. This inaction speaks louder than any poll. Rob Ford knows he doesn’t have the ability to help Hudak in the polls in the 416.

Don’t get me wrong: Ford staying out of the race is the right move. He would have been right to stay out of the federal race too — there really was no personal upside to his endorsement, as Harper promised little for Toronto — but that didn’t stop him. The mayor’s desire to endear himself to the provincial and federal Conservative parties is strong. He didn’t hang that picture of Mike Harris in his office for nothing, nor was it coincidental that Stephen Harper ate barbecue at Ford’s mother’s house over the summer. The Fords seem thrilled to be back in the good graces of the conservative political machine that once rejected them.

Ford’s silence on the provincial race — which, I have to assume, came because the powers-that-be decided his endorsement wouldn’t help anybody — is further proof that, if Rob Ford’s ascension was representative of any kind of political sea change, it was only a fleeting one. A brief, weird moment in time where Toronto collectively rolled the dice on a fascinating, one-of-a-kind politician, who spent his campaign tooling around the city in a (maybe improperly paid for) massive RV, telling everyone he could lower their taxes while maintaining their services.

Election night on October, 25, 2010 was not a massive rightward shift for Toronto. It was not the dawn of some great Ford Nation that holds sway over other orders of government beyond the City of Toronto’s borders. It was just an unlikely man winning an unconventional election in uncertain times.

That doesn’t mean that Ford couldn’t take a second term, of course. Just that, come 2014, the incumbent candidate will have to be a different Rob Ford, running on different terms, telling us something new.

Oct 11

Transit City, rise from your grave! (Or, at least, let’s build something on Finch)

On Councillor Josh Matlow’s radio show this week, the councillor half-wondered if the Transit City plan could be resurrected, given the recent flavour of council, which has shown a willingness to go against the mayor.

NewsTalk 1010’s Russ Courtney:

Matlow says transit advocates believe that because the mayor has been forced to alter his agenda the time could be right to return to the plan scrapped by Rob Ford after taking office.

“They smell blood in the water, says Matlow. “They’ve seen the Mayor not win every single vote. They’re wondering if this is an opportunity to revive Transit City from the dead.”

“Any discussion about whether or not (Transit City) get revisited would be done in conjunction with Metrolinx,” said TTC chair Karen Stintz.

via NEWSTALK 1010 – IN-DEPTH RADIO :: Matlow Wonders If Transit City Could Rise From the Dead – Local News :: Local News Stories.

As John Michael McGrath over at OpenFile notes, Stintz’s response on the issue is surprising, because you’d expect an outright denial and instead she side-stepped.

Reviving Transit City — and by Transit City at this point we mean the surface/underground alignment for the Eglinton LRT, the Sheppard LRT, and the Finch LRT — is challenging, but not so far outside the realm of possibility. Given construction timelines, switching the plan for Eglinton back to surface operation on the eastern and western edges of the line is doable. That said, I’m not sure Metrolinx — who has positioned the crosstown as a regional line with future links into the 905 — would be eager to accept yet another change to the plan.

I get where Matlow’s coming from, though. Given council’s newfound enthusiasm for rejecting the mayor’s most unworkable ideas, a council debate on the current transit strategy is warranted. We’ve been promised a council vote on these issues for months now. Even if the idea of reviving Transit City doesn’t come to the forefront, a thorough look at the mayor’s quest to privately fund a Sheppard Subway extension deserves scrutiny.

Remember, there’ still $300 million in committed funding from the federal government for transit on Sheppard. No one is entirely sure where that’s going. Attaching those funds to a Sheppard Subway extension that probably won’t ever happen is a waste. Applying that cash where it’s needed — say, on Finch West, in the form of light rail or a bus rapid transit project — could provide immediate, transformative benefit to an overcrowded corridor.

Oct 11

10% budget reductions, fewer cops on the streets, and reluctantly defending Bill Blair

From Rob Ford's "Financial Impact" platform document, his pledge to hire 100 more police officers. At present, it seems he will actually take hundreds off the streets through attrition to meet budget targets.

This week’s drama at City Hall: the police budget. The mayor wants all departments to cut their budgets by 10%, but Chief Bill Blair — whose budget is mostly labour costs — has refused, saying that he can’t do that without taking an unacceptable number of officers off the streets.

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

On Friday, the chief presented a scenario that would see a 1.5 per cent increase to the service’s $915 million operating budget, rather than the mandated 10 per cent cut.

Blair’s refusal to make concessions set [Councillor & Police Board Member Michael] Thompson off, who decided to publically question whether it was time to find a new chief if he won’t meet the budget target.

Ford made a near identical threat in January to force hiring concessions from Blair.

On Monday, in addition to his meeting with Ford, Blair set out on a daylong media offensive, giving a number of high-profile radio interviews where he spoke harshly of Thompson and defended his budget reductions.

via Toronto News: Chief Bill Blair tries to strike a budget deal with Rob Ford – thestar.com.

First: Let’s stop pretending that budgeting is easy. If running a government was as simple as pointing at budgets and demanding they be made smaller, anyone could do it. Hell, why stop at a 10% reduction? Why not 20%? Or 50%? All these blanket requests do is penalize the departments that have been run efficiently in recently years, forcing them to volunteer service cuts to meet their targets.

Second: A 10% reduction year-over-year is not an ‘efficiency’ target. It’s a number that requires service cuts to achieve. And that’s fine, I guess — some people like service cuts –, except that the mayor is attempting to have his cake and eat it too: claiming efficient victories while city departments scramble to gut services to meet his targets. In the case of the police service, the mayor’s request has a clear and direct outcome: he’s taking police officers off the streets. He can’t hide from that reality. There will be fewer police officers on Toronto’s streets this year and next year because of Rob Ford.

Third: Not that fewer police officers on the streets is necessarily a bad thing. Conventional wisdom is that Toronto spends too much on policing relative to its declining crime rate. Still, it has to be noted that Rob Ford campaigned on adding 100 police officers to the force, but instead has taken several times that many off the streets. It’s also fair to ask where the reductions in the force are coming from, because it sure would be a shame if, say, community policing in priority areas took a hit in favour of traffic enforcement.

Fourth: Bill Blair’s actions during the G20 are indefensible, which is why it’s challenging to write this: he shouldn’t resign. Setting aside that weekend where Toronto turned into a police state for no real reason — and I know, that’s hard — Bill Blair has been an effective leader of the Toronto Police Services, embracing a more liberal approach to public safety. If he goes, he’ll be replaced by the same guys who thought Julian Fantino was awesome at his job, and who seem to view allegations of corruption and excessive force as assets. It’s not worth going down that road.

Sep 11

Ford cuts his own staff, then suffers the consequences

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

By his own frugal doing, Ford’s office is short-staffed. Since his victory last October, they’ve struggled to establish an overarching communications strategy and a post-campaign narrative. The Ford brand is murky at the exact moment it’s needed most: selling unpopular cuts to a public that doesn’t want to take its medicine.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Adrienne Batra, spends most of her time managing the brother’s screw-ups.

via Toronto News: Has Rob Ford lost his grip? – thestar.com.

John Lorinc got people talking on Friday with a story on a potential rift between the mayor and his brother Doug , stemming from discontent over the way this administration lost control of the waterfront story. The Star’s David Rider, in a blog post, went so far as to report a rumour that the elder Ford ditched His Worship after a Lingerie Football game, forcing the mayor to take the subway home. (Yeah, that’s a sentence you just read on a political blog.)

But I don’t think a Doug/Rob split is the real story. I’m not even sure such a rift is conceivable. Instead, I think Doolittle nails the underlying issue facing the Ford administration with her quote above: this mayor simply does not have the staff complement in his office to implement the kind of communication and political strategies necessary to effectively navigate the storms he’s been facing.

And the storms are only going to get worse over the next few months.

If you listen to Ford’s (rare) public speeches, they’ve been relentlessly repetitive for months now. He essentially just lists a bunch of mostly-token accomplishments, nearly all of which were achieved in his first couple of months in office (eliminating the vehicle registration tax, cutting council expense budgets) or, in actuality, have not yet been achieved at all (privatizing garbage collection west of Yonge Street; building more subways). He’s a mayor in desperate need of a new message: one that resonates in the current political climate. One that doesn’t seem so stale.

But the people he needs to craft that message appear not to have the capacity to do so. And that capacity isn’t there because the mayor chose to cut it, taking $700,000 out of the mayoral office budget this year.

In other words: the mayor cut a government program — his own office budget — and there were immediate, far-reaching consequences that impacted said government’s ability to effectively do its job. If the mayor needs an example of why cutting staff or resources from a department might be a bad thing, he’s got one viewable from his own desk.

It’s almost poetic.

Sep 11

Despite leading question, CUPE poll still bad news for Ford

Toronto’s mayor is deeply unpopular.

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

A Forum Research telephone survey of nearly 13,000 people reveals that more than three-quarters of Torontonians want their local councillor to protect services rather than comply with the mayor’s wishes. And only 27 per cent of residents say they would vote for Rob Ford if an election was held tomorrow.

via Toronto News: Massive poll shows Toronto is united against Ford’s proposed cuts – thestar.com.

Forum Research is a respected pollster, but this poll — which is notable for just HUGE a sample it took, going far beyond what’s generally necessary for statistical accuracy — was paid for by CUPE Local 79, which is undoubtedly going to prompt supporters of the Ford administration to cry bias.

And they have a point. Looking at the poll questions, the one the Toronto Star highlights — “How much do you agree that your councillor should vote in the interests of protecting city services in your community, even if it conflicts with the wishes of Mayor Ford?” — is so leading as to render those specific results mostly irrelevant. Because what kind of person doesn’t agree with that statement? They might as well have asked if you want your councillor to be a spineless wimp or a super tough champion of the people.

Perspective is important with things like this, as it’s very likely a similarly-leading poll could come out that “supports” the mayor’s budget cuts. I’d bet they would see similar support numbers for a question like “Do you support an approach that will lead to balanced budgets this year and prevent large property tax increases?”

That said, the other two poll questions, which asked how views on Rob Ford have changed since the election and whether people would vote for Rob Ford if the election was held tomorrow, seem rather straightforward and free from bias. And the results are more insanely bad news for Rob Ford: a full 54% of respondents say their opinion of the mayor has “gotten worse” since his election and only 27% say they’d vote for him if an election were held tomorrow.

Speculation zone: Ford has lost a ton of support for two reasons. First, I don’t believe that there is a lot of support out there for the kind of budget cuts he’s left on the table. He needs to start speaking authoritatively about the budget to assure people that he does have a plan and that it won’t involve outright cuts to the things people care most about. More honesty and leadership would help a lot.

The second thing: pure overexposure. The mayor has been at the centre of a non-stop media cyclone since the day he took office. Every week brings us another wacky adventure, whether it’s the will-he-or-won’t-he storyline with Pride Toronto, the special all-nighter episode of the Executive Committee, the Jarvis bike lane saga or the recent let’s-sell-the-waterfront gambit. Ford desperately needs a month or two of relative quiet and calm at City Hall. But with this budget process sure to drag on for the next four or five months, there may not be a way for Toronto’s populist mayor to regain his popularity.

Sep 11

Toronto’s unpopular mayor

A new Forum Research poll has the mayor’s approval rating at 42%. This is crazy low for a municipal politician, especially one who is not even a year into his term of office.

I’ve thrown together a quick chart which shows his previous favourability numbers as also reported by Forum Research along with some comparisons to former mayors David Miller and Mel Lastman, compiled via a variety of sources. In summary: his numbers don’t compare very well. Ford’s about as popular right now as a guy who had been in office six years, had pushed through two unpopular new taxes and was staring into the face of a municipal workers strike that would see garbage pile up in public parks for a month.

And Ford hasn’t even got to the big cuts yet.

The Toronto Star’s David Rider looks at the steep drop for Ford support in the suburbs:

Half of Etobicoke-York respondents approve of “the job Ford is doing,” down from 58 per cent in June. In Scarborough, his support is 49 per cent (down from 59 per cent); 43 per cent in North York (down from 69 per cent) and only 30 per cent in Toronto-East York (down from 44).

via Toronto News: Ford support plummeting, poll suggests – thestar.com.

That 26 point drop in North York is crazy.

The obvious retort to this kind of thing is just to fold your arms and say polls don’t matter. Which, sure, is true. As the mayor said yesterday, the only poll he cares about is the one on election day. But behind the scenes, this is a mayor who has built his political power on the premise that he is a very popular and well-liked guy in suburban Toronto. With that premise looking shaky if not shattered, there’s no compelling reason for certain councillors to always look so intently to Giorgio Mammoliti’s thumb when items come to a vote at council.

It’s probably no surprise that the release of this poll coincidences with news that certain councillors will oppose the mayor on key items related to waterfront development and the upcoming budget process.

Sep 11

On transit: keep cutting until ridership drops

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

In order to fill a combined $101-million shortfall in regular and Wheel-Trans service for 2012, chief general manager Gary Webster is recommending the commission run less frequent buses, cut its workforce, and support in principle a 10¢ fare hike to cover the remaining $29-million gap. TTC chair Karen Stintz stressed a fare increase is not up for consideration now.

Loath to face the scorn of a public dead set against bus route cutbacks earlier this year, officials have opted for a strategy that trims costs without cancelling routes.

via Prepare for more crowded buses as TTC report recommends service cuts | Posted Toronto | National Post.

This is a fine bit of gamesmanship from Stintz and the TTC. Suddenly they’re not calling a move that will see buses removed from service a “cut.” It’s an efficiency or reallocation, or whatever, despite the fact that this move will absolutely make service much worse for a large number of riders.

Rob Ford seems to be rather unshakable in his opposition to a fare increase, which I guess owes to his commitment to populism. As Steve Munro has argued, a fare increase is of ten or twenty cents is probably more than justified going into next year’s budget, and in any case seems far preferable to to deep cuts to service.

These sort of budget games only serve to underline the fact that there’s only one proven way to significantly reduce transit costs, and that’s to limit ridership increases. The TTC was at its most affordable in the 1990s, when ridership was at record lows across the board. It was only after the Miller administration started being proactive to promote transit — primarily by increasing service through the Ridership Growth Strategy — that ridership numbers grew to now-record highs.

There are two paths forward for transit in this city. One sees an improved emphasis on frequent and quality service and a coordinated demand for fair and equitable funding for both operating and capital from the other orders of government. The other sees us turn back the clock, slash service to save money, and ultimately cause ridership to fall again, resulting in those lower department costs the Fords have been chasing.

Of course, those cut off from transit will still need to get around, resulting in higher costs elsewhere, but that kind of thinking — long-term, high-level, proactive — isn’t really in vogue these days.